TheSabre.com Fan Friday: Virginia At Illinois Keys + Poll

Virginia football season opened with a 34-17 victory against Richmond, which made Tony Elliott’s debut a success. Fans enjoyed the winning start, but also tried to decipher how that first impression would translate to the rest of the 2022 schedule.

Whether the analysis came from Coach Elliott, players, fans, or media types, it seemed like everyone’s take on the game ended up in the same spot. Good enough, but much more will be needed in the weeks ahead. That’s understandable from a W that featured just one second-half touchdown, a missed extra point, multiple turnovers, and no stops in the red zone. Plus, it looked like a fairly generic approach in terms of game plan.

That brings the season to Week 2 and the first road trip of the Elliott era. The Cavaliers head to Illinois for a 4 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU. The Hoos grabbed a 42-14 win in last season’s meeting at Scott Stadium, taking control quickly in what was an 11 a.m. start. UVA led 14-0 inside of the first 5 minutes and then answered every possible surge from the Illini.

The 2021 result combined with a close 23-20 loss for Illinois against Indiana last week makes Elliott expect a hungry host team for the Saturday rematch. “Man, I told the guys we’ve got to be careful because you’re walking into a situation where they played to the end [against Indiana]. It didn’t go their way. They’re at home. Virginia beat them last year. There’s a lot of motivation on their end, and they’re a big, physical team up front,” he said.

Fans have spent the week dissecting the matchup too and that “big, physical” part has been a common theme in the conversations. There are threads on the contest here, here, and here for example. Almost all talk about the trenches.

So with that prologue in place, here are three keys to the game:

  • Run defense. Given that Illinois prefers a run-based scheme under Bret Bielema, this was already an important consideration before the season started when looking at this matchup. From what’s been on display in the Illini’s first two games, however, the priority level only grew. Running back Chase Brown leads the nation right now at 179.0 rushing yards per game after posting 55 carries for 358 yards and 2 touchdowns in games against Wyoming and Indiana. He had a TD against UVA last year too. The Hoos, meanwhile, gave up 164 yards and a touchdown at a clip of 5.5 yards per carry to Richmond’s two backs in the opener. If Brown runs at will, it’s going to make winning this game difficult.
  • Can UVA’s offense play a cleaner game? The Cavaliers scored 34 points in the season-opening win, but they also had 5 penalties, 3 drops, 2 turnovers, and a near touchdown-erasing fumble at the goal line on offense. Virginia has some firepower in terms of individual skill, but mistakes and poor execution can quickly over-ride that.
  • Passing fancy. The coaches have an interesting choice to make this week. The sought-after balance on offense paid dividends in the opener, but that strategy might not work as well in this particular game if a still growing offensive line can’t win matchups in the trenches. Brennan Armstrong lit up Illinois for 405 yards and 5 touchdowns in last year’s meeting, while Indiana’s Connor Bazelak posted 330 passing yards and a touchdown last week in his team’s win against the Illini. Will the coaches go to the passing well often and see what happens?

Now that you’ve caught up on some of the weekly fan chatter and read the keys to the game, what do you think? Who wins Saturday?

Who Will Win Saturday's Game?

  • Virginia (79%, 163 Votes)
  • Illinois (21%, 44 Votes)

Total Voters: 207

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Fans Of The Week

Good times watching the Hoos win.

Virginia

Student Fans Of The Week

Off to a good start at Scott Stadium.

Virginia

Feature Photo Of The Week

Virginia running back Perris Jones recorded 104 rushing yards with a touchdown against Richmond. He also caught a TD pass.

Virginia Perris Jones